I first wrote a musing on this theme back in 1997 that I called "Following Instructions." I thought it was time to revisit those thoughts and add to them some new insights I have gleaned.
In parashat T'rumah, Gd gives us a very specific set of building instructions to create the tabernacle. The question arises, "how do we make these instructions appropriate and meaningful in today's world?"
I submit is may not be as difficult as it sounds. Let's work our way through the text and see how we can create with what we have today our own virtual tabernacle.
First, we must have a giving heart. For Gd asks those whose hearts impel them to give to the offering (25:2.) We must be willing to give of our precious possessions. In ancient times, it was precious metals, fine fabrics, animals, foods. For us perhaps it is our money and our time. The things that we value and treasure above all are those we must be willing to contribute to creating our Mishkan (tabernacle.)
Next, we must desire to build a place where Gd can dwell among us. (25:9.) This might mean a physical structure, as the tabernacle was, or it might be something more ethereal. In these times, perhaps working toward building a just and compassionate society, and striving to be Jews who seriously try to make sense of all that Gd has asked us to do will provide Gd with a far better home than merely building fancy synagogues and monuments.
Our ancestors were told to build an aron (the Holy ark of the Covenant.) How are we to do this in cotemporary times? We build the "sides" up through our observance and ritual. We cover it inside and outside with "gold" - our love and our sacrifices. We build "four rings" with our faith - giving us something to hold on to. Through the rings of faith go the "poles" of Jewish knowledge and learning - for on these we can support our contemporary aron.
(25:13.) We know what goes inside-our Torah and all our teachings. And we cover it again with our love of Torah and learning. We are instructed to make the "cherubs" from the same gold as the cover; when we study and learn, or we teach, we become the cherubs, ad as our children learn, they too become these cherubic adornments on our contemporary virtual aron.
Of what are we to build a "table"? Of our lives-our actions, the things we do day by day. And of what are the "legs" of the table made? Why, mitzvot, of course. Now, we don't want a table with shaky legs, do we. So if the mitzvot are to be the legs that hold up our table, we must be sure that we understand and honor them. Even if our practice is more in the breach of them than the observance, if we at least know them, they can make a reasonably solid leg.
We know how to make the menorah, the "lamp" - by becoming or l'goyim, a light to the nations. Moses was puzzled by the menorah instructions, the rabbis tell us, so that Gd had to show an example of it. Well, we have our instructions too, in the very writings that tell us this story.
Of what are we to build our tabernacle, our "tent"? The Torah speaks of woven-together tapestries. So we use the stories of our people, the tales, the songs, the histories, the biographies, the dramas and we weave them together into a strong and fine fabric. Lest anyone ever think there is one story or one song too many to weave into our tapestry, the Torah reminds us that there should be an extra portion of our fabric left over and trailing behind the back of our tent. (26:12.)
And what about a "roof" for our virtual tabernacle? What are to be our modern-day ram skins, dolphin skins and hides? Perhaps our vaunted strength, our perseverance, our endurance. We have survived thousands of years of persecution, intolerance, and hatred, and from these perhaps we have the strength and "skins" to protect our tabernacle. Note that we are instructed to make two roof coverings. (26:14) There is great wisdom in this and we would do well to be sure that our modern virtual tabernacle is well protected from the elements. And perhaps we can remind ourselves that we have two layers for the roof, just as we may have an outer skin ourselves that protects us from the harsh realities of everyday life, and protects that inner skin, our vulnerable inner selves.
Now we need the supporting structure for our virtual tabernacle. The "beams." What can we make those of? Well, we can, each of us, be a supporting pillar, a beam in the structure that supports our tabernacle. Each and every Jew. And an important lesson: we are told to make crossbeams to help hold the beams together. (26:26) A reminder that we must reach and across the gaps between us so that we may strengthen ourselves as a people. How true this is in our time, when there is so much divisiveness in the Jewish community.
A special "cloth" is now needed to create a separate holy space in which to store our sacred treasure. We can do this in many ways. By observing Shabbat, we create a separate sacred and holy space set apart from the rest of the week. And in taking the time to recite b'rachot (blessings), t'fillah (prayer) and participating in home and synagogue centered worship, we create little holy pockets of time. These pockets provide a divider between the sacred and profane moments in our lives.
What shall we use for our "altar"? Do we need a place upon which we can burn sacrifices? In what ways do we make our offerings to Gd in these times? Not with burnt animals. Rashi teaches us that "t'rumah" means not so much gifts as it does "set apart." Perhaps our gift to Gd can be ourselves, when we take the time to observe Gd's commandments. So our altar shall be our hearts and minds from which our gift springs.
Finally, Gd instructs that the tabernacle be surrounded with an outer "enclosure." The enclosure has stakes to hold it in place. (27:19) "Stakes" must be firmly planted in hard ground. So our enclosure is the reality in which we live. While much of what we must do as Jews serves to separate us from the rest of the world, here is a reminder that we must be tied to the stakes of the ground on which we walk. We must take our place in society, and work from within it to bring about tikkun olam (repair of the world.) For if we pull up our stakes we will merely blow away in the wind. And our Torah is not about how to live life as a wind, as a spirit. It is about how to live life as a human being. And to do that, we must live on this earth with all of Gd's creations. And respect them all.
In virtual reality, we create realistic looking but non-existent things. However, our mishkan need not be non-existent. Thus with heart, body, mind, thought, action, sacrifice and more we construct our Mishkan. It'll be it's quite something to see. And it will be something quite real, though lacking in physical mass. It's "real virtuality." Through the realities of our deeds and thoughts, we create our virtual Mishkan. I hope Gd will be pleased with our work.
In years past, I offered a short and simple thought for this parasha which nicely sums up what I have said this year, and I reiterate the sentiment:
Let us each construct in our lives, homes, communities and universe a sanctuary so that Gd may dwell among us. Not a physical sanctuary, but one of thoughts and deeds. Surely Gd will dwell with us when we create such a sanctuary.
©2002 by Adrian A. Durlester
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